Defensive Ends, Jaguars Approach Part 1

Tony Brackens, a seven-year veteran defensive end, will mostly likely be cut due to his high-priced salary and the nature of his knee injury. If the Jaguars do cut him, it will save the club $5.5 million against the cap this year.

The 1996 second-round draft pick is recovering from microfracture surgery performed in November. According to a league source, the team doesn't have the confidence that Brackens will return to a form that would make it worthwhile keeping him around.

With the Jags' career sack leader (49) on his way out, Jacksonville's new front-office man, James Harris, will be looking hard into free agency to bolster the depth at the defensive end position.

A couple of early names that the Jaguars are rumored to be looking at in the unrestricted free agency market are Willie Whitehead from New Orleans and Chidi Ahanotu from Buffalo.

Whitehead, a 6-foot-3, 285-pound spot-starter the last four years with New Orleans, is a solid run-stopper. He's also racked up 17.5 sacks over the last 58 games. However, in 2002 he missed several games due to a hairline fracture of his left fibula.

Before the 2002 season began, New Orleans signed Whitehead, a restricted free agent, to a one-year tender of $563,000 after the two sides were unable to work out a longer-term deal. Whitehead had wanted a four-year contract with the Saints but New Orleans offered him only a three-year deal, which angered him and his agent.

"In all likelihood, this is Willie's final year in New Orleans," Whitehead's agent, Terry Bolar, told Saints Insider last April. "Next year we will test the UFA waters and Willie will get what he is worth."

If the price is right, Whitehead's production and youth could be the perfect fit for Jacksonville.

Ahanotu is a 6-foot-2, 285-pound, 10-year veteran who was drafted out of California by Tampa Bay in the sixth round of the 1993 draft. He ranks fifth on Tampa Bay's all-time sack list with 27.5 sacks and had 88 starts in 97 career games while with the Buccaneers. In 2002 he was signed by the Bills as a free agent and had a very productive season for the Bills, recording 44 tackles and five sacks.

Ahanotu could be a bargain for the Jags.

---Dave Peters

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